The Bible records many instances where Jesus prayed, but few where people heard what he prayed.
John 17 is one of those few instances. So it should mean something exceptional to us both that Jesus prayed that prayer and that he prayed it for his disciples to hear it and preserve it.
Jesus prayed that John 17 prayer in the company of his disciples in the upper room on the same night on which he was betrayed; that is, the evening before he was crucified. So as Jesus was within hours of himself being betrayed, arrested, abandoned, tried, tortured, and crucified, he prayed to his Father out loud in front of his disciples, for his disciples, because they were in grave danger. Specifically, Jesus prayed that his Father guard his disciples in unity, guard them from the devil, and keep them holy.
So what’s the good news for us that Jesus prayed that prayer for his disciples?
It begins with recognizing whether one is a disciple of Jesus in danger.
Ask — does Jesus need to pray for my unity?
Consider that surrounding and within the Christian church-at-large, as the proliferation of denominational difference shows, there is the danger of division over false teaching. Then within individual congregations consider the added dangers of gossip and grudges and not forgiving. All these threats, and many more like them, reveal our unity is incredibly fragile.
Ask — does Jesus need to pray for my protection from the devil and his evil?
Consider just recent headlines: Planes and trains crash, nations war, criminals commit crimes, and terrorists terrorize. There are earthquakes and volcanoes. The unborn are killed — legally. Our Emerald Coast community is interlocked literally with military bases of all sorts of war hardwares. Law enforcement is necessary at every level of our city, county, state, and country. All these realities, and many more like them, indicate there is evil in many and varied forms and we all live every single day under its threat.
Ask — does Jesus need to pray for me to be kept holy?
Consider that natural law is now so unnatural that gender dysphoria and same-sex marriage mean the profane is always devising new threats. Pornography, marital infidelity and physical abuse mean the profane has not abandoned its old threats. Consider that we struggle to engage the holy — faithfulness in worship and Bible study and prayer and tithing and evangelism. These dangers of the profane threaten our holiness.
In the end, not only is every disciple of Jesus Christ in danger but couldn’t be in greater danger. We NEED Jesus to pray for us.
So what’s the good news that we need Jesus to pray for us?
It begins with recognizing the Jesus who prays. The Jesus who prays the John chapter 17 prayer prayed it as he approached what threatened him. The serviceman who steps into harms way to save, the law enforcement officer or the fire fighter who runs toward danger that others might escape it, these are but dim images of Jesus praying John chapter 17. For Jesus prayed this prayer out of ultimate and perfect concern over the grave danger that threatened his disciples even as he prepared to face that very danger for them. Sin, death, and the devil were conspiring to eternally destroy his disciples. So Jesus took their place. He prayed for them. And it cost him his life.
So that his disciples would remain in unity with his Father, Jesus took the sin of his disciples unto himself to the point that his own Father rejected from him. So that his disciples would not be destroyed by the devil and his evil, Jesus was destroyed in the place of his disciples. So that his disciples would be kept holy, Jesus subjected himself to the profane for them because he was devoted only to his Father.
This is the Jesus who prayed for his disciples. And this is the Jesus who prays for you.
Hebrews 7:25 — “Therefore [Jesus] is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.”
Romans 8: 34 — “Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.”
So what’s the good news that Jesus prays for his disciples in danger?
The good news is that through God’s gift of faith you are his disciple and because Jesus Christ, the Son of God, prays for you — at the same time you could not be in greater danger and you could not be more secure.
You NEED Jesus to pray for you. The good news is he does.
Kevin Wendt is pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Destin.